Authors: Suki Fleet
Jo—for the journey.
was a desperate one.
Christopher wasn’t used to running such distance—the train station must have been over a mile away—and his lungs felt like they were about to burst with the exertion. And although Christopher was fast, the boy he was chasing seemed to be a more natural runner—he wasn’t even slowed by the heavy bag in his arms. But there was no way Christopher could give up.
They ran across the playing field and down a hill toward the road. It was a busy dual carriageway. A huge, dirty gravel truck was bearing down fast in the outside lane, cars coming up the hill behind it. They both slowed. At the bottom of the hill, the boy turned to face him and, as though he was oblivious to the traffic, jogged backward into the road.
With a spike of absolute panic, Christopher could see the accident about to happen, could see the boy’s fragile bones crushed beneath speeding wheels, his blood smeared on the tarmac. Without thinking, he just reacted, sprinting and launching himself at the boy, the momentum pushing them both across the road right in front of the truck. They skidded across the tarmac and for a blinding second, he thought he was too late—the scent of asphalt and car fumes filled his lungs, and he closed his eyes, the soft fabric of the boy’s clothes bunched in his fist, waiting for the impact and for everything to be over.
But it didn’t happen. For a moment nothing happened. Then Christopher opened his eyes and saw they’d made it to the other side of the road. The truck was gone in a whoosh of hazy air, cars zooming past as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, as if the two of them had not nearly lost their lives in an all too common traffic accident.
The boy pinned beneath him looked absolutely petrified.
His heart hammered wildly against Christopher’s own, like the wings of a bird beating desperately against the bones of its cage. It was as though he thought Christopher had grabbed him and sent both their bodies skidding across the hot gravel because he wanted to purposefully hurt him, not because he’d just saved his life pushing him out of the way of the truck about to mow him down.
For a moment Christopher couldn’t move, could only stare into the terrified boy’s eyes, thinking he’d never been this close to someone with such unusual, startlingly light-colored eyes—almost golden—and with his electric shock of blue hair and smooth caramel skin, Christopher felt as if he’d caught a fairy or some other magical creature who, on being captured, would perhaps screw his eyes shut and hold his breath and just… disappear, leaving Christopher holding a pile of dirty clothes.
The boy began to tremble visibly. Christopher realized he was probably crushing him with his weight and, moving slowly, he eased himself up and flopped down onto his back next to the boy. His shirt stuck to his chest and sides, and sweat trickled down his spine. He could smell the adrenaline as it seeped out of his system—mostly bitter, a little sweet. It was the same after a big jump, something that had you questioning what your life was worth and whether you’d miss it if you ended up splattered on the ground in the gap between the buildings you were trying to clear.
It hit him then how monumentally stupid what he had just done was, how narrowly the truck had missed the both of them. He brought his hand up to his temple and slowly let it all sink in. But how could he not have tried to save him when he had been the reason the boy had run into the road in the first place? If Christopher hadn’t given chase after he’d seen the boy take off with his bag, none of this would have happened. How could anyone just watch someone be run over if there was the tiniest chance they could save them?
He turned his head, fully expecting the boy to be a vanishing speck on the grassy hill behind them, retreating into the distant council estate where Christopher would never find him, but the boy still lay where he’d fallen, looking as shell-shocked as Christopher.
His soft lips were moving—it fascinated Christopher the way he continually touched his lip ring with the pink tip of his tongue—and there were words there, being spoken in the unsilent sphere of the world, but currently the angle was all wrong for Christopher to see what they were. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see right now anyway. For all he knew, they might be along the lines of
Instead he sat up. They had ended up only a couple of meters from the road, and cars were speeding past a little close for comfort. He could see his holdall still sat between the barriers on the other side of the dual carriageway, where the boy had dropped it before he’d jogged backward into the path of the truck.
Slim fingers gripped his sleeve. He turned. The boy’s expression was still shocked but curious too.
Christopher read the shapes of the words on his lips. “Are you deaf?”
Caught again by those arresting eyes, Christopher nodded and waited to see what the boy’s reaction would be. There were three ways people generally reacted to his deafness—they either made some rubbish excuse to avoid talking to him, which he hated; they were nice and tried to have a seminormal conversation, which he valiantly tried to overcome his inherent shyness for; or they were overly curious, questioning him to within an inch of his life, as though he had some fascinating tropical disease, which was one of the few things that made him fantasize what it would be like to punch someone.
The boy didn’t seem fazed at all. “Are you hurt?” he asked, lips moving slowly, concern obvious in his expression.
Christopher shook his head, looking away. He should be angry. This boy had swiped his bag, after all, and in it was the sum total of everything he now possessed. But perhaps near-death experiences wiped away insignificancies like possessions.
“What’s your name?” Christopher asked, his courage mostly fueled by the dregs of adrenaline still coursing through his bloodstream, though he felt the familiar heat rising to his cheeks all the same. He could blush for England, and he knew he sounded slow and stupid when he spoke—he’d been told too many times for that hang-up to ever truly go away—and normally he was particularly shy about speaking aloud around people he was this attracted to, but he had a sudden need to know the boy’s name.
“Summer,” the boy mouthed. “Look, I’m sorry I took your bag.”
Summer closed his eyes as if the words caused him a certain amount of discomfort.
Christopher just shrugged. He knew the boy wasn’t a natural thief. He’d known enough thieves in his short life to know the difference. Looking away, he picked up a few pieces of gravel and let them fall through his fingers.
Summer, Summer, Summer.
Strangest thing—he felt like smiling.
Summer tapped his arm again. “You’re not pissed at me? I thought when you ran after me like that you were going to kill me for sure.”
Shaking his head, Christopher mouthed
just wanted my bag back
The boy inched closer. “Are you from round here?” he asked.
Christopher wasn’t even sure where
was. He’d fallen asleep on the train into London and missed his stop after walking out, yet again, from the latest foster family he’d been placed with. His social worker said he was beginning to get a reputation, and families wouldn’t want to deal with a kid who constantly ran away, wouldn’t want to put the effort in. But the type of families he’d been placed with lately didn’t put any effort in anyway. They were just in it for the money as far as Christopher could tell.
“No,” he said.
“So where are you from?”
Having this conversation at the edge of a busy road felt surreal, and he hitched backward, beckoning Summer to do the same until their hands touched the soft earth and springy grass of the rising embankment.
Christopher considered his words carefully. He preferred to sign or write, but there was nothing here to write on. “London, mostly. I’ve been living other places for a while, though. Canterbury was the last.”
“Your family move round?”
Laughter bubbled up before he could stop it, all strange and freeing. It had been so long since he’d laughed.
“No. I move round f-f-families.”
He felt the stutter vibrate through him and cringed a little.
“You do? Me too.” The boy smiled. He was otherworldly, beautifully so. “Kids’ homes are the worst, though…. How long have you been in foster care?”
“Almost five years. Since I was eleven. I spent some time on the streets too. You?”
Like a cloud sliding in front of the sun, Summer’s bright expression dimmed. “When my real dad went back to Jamaica, things got bad at home. Was in foster care and children’s homes since I was nine. Been back with my real mum for the past six months.”
“But you’re not happy there.” Christopher recognized the reason for Summer’s change in mood with painful clarity. If he’d been sent back to live with his real mum, he would have run so far they’d never have found him again. It was the one thing he dreaded his social worker telling him.
“My mum’s okay. She has bad taste in boyfriends, is all. But then that was always the problem in the first place.”
Looking as though he was eager to change the subject, Summer stood up and held out his hand. Christopher took it and felt the strength there, even though everything about Summer was small. At fifteen, Christopher was already over six foot; he would likely make six foot four by the time he was eighteen. Summer barely cleared five foot seven.
“I didn’t see the truck,” Summer said, looking out into the road. The shock was wearing off and realization setting in. “I guess I owe you my life or something…?” He smiled ruefully.
“There’s a saying that if you save someone’s life, you are then responsible for it,” Christopher replied.
It hadn’t made sense to him before. Why should you be responsible for someone’s life if you’d saved it? Surely their life was their responsibility, and as Summer said, they should owe you for saving them. But suddenly he wanted that responsibility. He wanted something to tie him to Summer. The light shifted around them, making everything at once clear and, at the same time, strangely indistinct—the cloudless blue of the sky became deeper, closing in around them like the sea, the grassy hill an island, and theirs alone.
“You have a nice voice. Really deep.” Summer swallowed. Maybe he could feel the strangeness of the moment too. “I guess… I guess you wouldn’t know. I mean….” Now it was Summer’s turn to cringe. “Of course, maybe you do, I don’t know, but just in case no one has ever told you….” He feigned a sudden rapt interest in the laces of his barely held-together shoes.
Christopher looked at him wide-eyed. Only a complete stranger would say that. A complete stranger with no filter, whose openness shone out like a blaze of light.
Summer’s hand came up to cover his face as if to hide a blush lighter skin would show. “My real mum says my mouth is my curse. She says I have no tact, and I need to learn when to stop talking. And that was probably about five minutes ago, wasn’t it?”
Christopher felt himself smiling, his blood singing in the warm sunlight.
“I should go and get my bag,” he said, just because he needed to say
, and he gestured across the road, unable to look away from Summer’s face. He wondered if Summer could feel the magnetic pull.
But quick as a flash of light, the moment passed, their island retreated. The sky rose up again, pale and windswept, the cars rushed past. And before his eyes, Summer faded a little too.
“I know… I know you said you weren’t right now, but I think you’re going to be really pissed with me…. You saved my life and nearly killed yourself, and I feel like shit for taking your stuff, so, well, if you want to punch me, just do it now and get it over with, please?” Anxiously Summer sucked his lip ring into his mouth.
“What?” Christopher was perplexed. Why would he want to punch Summer? Now that Christopher stood next to him, seeing how much shorter and smaller Summer was, how easy he would be to enfold in his arms to calm the horrible way he was trembling, just about the last thing Christopher wanted to do was punch him.
“I sold your stuff,” Summer said, looking utterly distressed.
“My stuff?” Christopher looked over at his bag, still on the other side of the road. “What, all of it?”
“Your phone, your wallet, your cash card.”
This was said so unclearly, and with such miserable dejection, it took Christopher a moment to work out the words.
That was everything he had.
Christopher turned dizzily and felt the grass come up to meet his hands. How had Summer sold his things so quickly? When he’d awoken on the train, it had been stopped at an unfamiliar station he couldn’t even remember the name of, and this boy with his shock of blue hair had been vanishing down the platform with his bag. Christopher had given chase, and for a while, yes, he’d lost him. But it was only minutes—not even ten of them—before he saw him appear again and they were sprinting through the shopping streets and down to the dual carriageway where they were now.